If the UK magazine Spiked sees anti-smoking as some kind of New Labour plot despite its international ubiquitousness, Reason magazine sometimes sounds as if the New Health Totalitarianism was a made-in-California deal or, in this case, the barmy brainchild of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
David Weigel pegs Bloomberg as a “nurse” and “petty tyrant”, and ridicules attempts to paint the mayor as a natural choice for those with libertarian inclinations. Yet he manages to sound as if the tyrant thing is really all Bloomie’s problem. In the same key as his counterparts at Spiked, who use the smoking ban and other repressive government initiatives as a stick to beat New Labour with, Weigel seems to see the idiocyncracy of one ruggedly individual man at work in the Big Apple’s mayor, rather than the same International Robotically Controlled Health Politician® behaviour that we can easily observe in pols from Naples to Nova Scotia.
“If the problem is with New Yorkers’ behavior—their cigarettes, their noise, their snacking on those infernal trans fats—Bloomberg puts down the calculator and grasps for the handcuffs. The running theme is a distrust of voters and a general uneasiness about the way they want to govern themselves,” Weigel complains, as if this sort of thing were not part of a general tendency.
“Taken independently of one another Bloomberg’s follies and obsessions do sound petty,” he opines. Put that way, the problem sounds reassuringly simple: all we have to do is look up the number of Woody Allen’s Manhattan therapist and pass it on to the mayor, and the follies of one neurotic politician could soon be a thing of the past!
Yet, Weigel continues, the mayor’s follies are “of a piece; they’re the priorities and solutions of a leader who believes that governmental micromanaging can change peoples’ behaviour….” He also notes that “the pol who believes he can enhance public health by limiting public choice believes he can fix many other problems by limiting that choice.”
What Weigel fails to grasp, however, is the extent to which Bloomberg’s use of public health as a cudgel with which to beat the public is part of a world-wide movement, and that especially in the United States and Britian, it would have been unacceptable for most of the post-war period. So why is it happening now? The question is not about why is Michael Bloomberg quirky. It’s, who pull his strings?